Merrill Lynch's Steinberg Deconstructs Tech Buildup

By John S. McClenahen The results are not as dramatic or controversial as some recent academic attempts to deconstruct history and literature. But Bruce Steinberg, chief economist at Merrill Lynch & Co., New York, has taken a look at the U.S. Commerce Dept.'s just-published revisions of GDP data and concluded that with the partial exception of telecom, overbuilding of capital stock is not the cause of the current capital spending slowdown. "Based on the revised data, growth of tech capital stock probably peaked at 12.5% in 1999 and slowed to 11% last year," relates Steinberg. But during the decade leading to the year 2000, the rate was 9% annually, at the bottom of its historical range. "That doesn't seem particularly overbuilt to us," quips Steinberg. This year, he figures, the rate will be about 8% as tech spending records its biggest decline ever. "And after this year's contraction in tech spending, even a relatively strong rebound will probably leave tech capital stock growing only about 7.5% in 2002," he predicts. Indeed, "by late next year tech spending may well have to make up for its prior weakness."

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